as it Pertains to the Artwork of Bayne Peterson and Some Other Artists
The provisional movement in art that we have seen developing over some years now reflects the trend of markets towards the total commodification of objects.
In the installation practice of an artist like Gedi Sibony, the space of the gallery is transformed into an entirely aestheticized surface, one which must be taken in its entirety as an art object, and one which cannot be made dis-identical to itself as a total commodity. Rather than defying the norms for salability by making ephemeral experiences of art, these totalizing art experiences simply expand the parameters for what can be sold as art.
One imagines, when looking at these works, that included in the sale of a Sibony is the guarantee that Sibony will personally ensure that pieces of tape are placed just so, and that a Sibony or Sibony-attendee will, in the future, do the same in order that the piece will be complete. Thus, the unspoken supplement to the bits and fluff arranged in a Sibony piece is the guarantee of the presence of Sibony in perpetuity. And we’re not just talking about a Sibony estate management group. What happens when a piece of brown tape begins to curl? Sibony’s ghost will need to be addressed for complex formal matters. While these works look modest, their material modesty comes with hidden fees: the very presence of Sibony’s person.
By de-skilling the making of art-object, do artist align themselves with ideation and immaterial production, or do they pose as unskilled wage-earners? by “free-skilling,” or floating between crafts to service vision, how are artists creating slippages between visible categories of labor as we have traditionally known it? The Sibony argument is used as an example of the way an artist’s practice can contain hidden labor, can emulate certain kinds of soft indenture, can point to the sort of labor that is rewarded in certain economies, and so on.
By free-skilling, the artist may permanently occupy the hobbyist archetype - an occasional maker with extreme and urgent visions. However, this approach keeps art-making in the realm of a marginal supplementary practice, perhaps the therapeutic coda to a draining occupation in the world of immaterial exchanges in the main. There are plenty of human people who make work to massage away the anomie created of the endlessly dividing proteus that is our economic machine.
Another approach - which is one that Peterson has chosen to bear out - is to insist on craftsmanship as not only a highly skilled activity (which may or may not take up too much time), but one which is pursued as a course of embodied knowledge grown over a lifetime, which is also pursued outside of or alongside of the existing demands of skilled work in the labor markets.
Peterson’s woodcarvings and other sculptures are staunchly independent of his person. They can travel freely in the world and be installed without much direction from Peterson himself. They are built to last, and they sustain their own weight. In fact, it does feel important that while not figurative, they balance on their own (albeit being limb-y). While this self-contained sturdiness may refer to what has, in another time, been a prerequisite for “exhibit-able art”, in a discursive atmosphere that is accommodating of both Brancusi’s and Sibony’s it can no longer hold as a formal assumption.The self-sufficiency of the small freestanding sculpture, which can travel independently of its maker (and of the maker’s perpetual attendance), has a humility about it that feels pretty special - its autonomy having little to do with the kind of self-containing brand identities accompanying much of the work of high modernism. The autonomy here allows the work to be regarded variously, perhaps being accommodating to multiple contexts and viewerships, and of course, implies its life beyond one of its maker.
The fact of craft comes back to the fore when we consider that the artist passes craft through these objects, rather than passing craft thinly over a stream of vision that dies at the moment of the death of vision (or, the death of the artist). —I’m referring back to the idea of “freeskilling” again. Craft here feels steadfast, generous, and continuous. The combination of being borne of dedicated and committed alternatives to production, or productive work while being invigorated by an exhibitionary practice, which injects a character, spirit, or thick “emotional” content into a perhaps mostly hidden activity, makes the work of Peterson and others visible to critical publics as a field of underexplored human life. That work is revealed to us in this way is invigorating!